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Aho v. Suomen Tupakka Oy

(Personal Injury, Helsinki City Ct 1988 Def Decision) Related Case: Prosecutor v. Virtanen

This Finnish personal injury suit was filed by Pentti Kalevi Aho against Suomen Tupakka Oy and Oy Rettig Ab, and Thor-Bjorn Lundqvist, Eino-Erkki Salo, Satu Kaarenoja, and Raimo Lintuniemi of Suomen Tupakka Oy, on May 6, 1988.
The plaintiff alleged that his illnesses were caused by smoking the defendants' cigarettes. He smoked Rettig's Klubi cigarettes from 1941 to 1966 and Suomen Tupakka's North State cigarettes from 1966 to 1986. He was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis and emphysema in 1980, chronic laryngitis in 1985, and cancer of the larynx in 1986. He was declared permanently disabled in 1981. In 1988, his cancer had metastasized to his lung and he was treated for lung cancer. The plaintiff claimed the Finnish equivalent of failure to warn, concealment, negligence, product liability, violations of advertising laws and content regulations. The plaintiff sought compensatory damages totaling FIM 486,000, interests and legal costs.
On January 18, 1990, the plaintiff added criminal claims against the defendants for aggravated battery. The claim was concurrent with the plaintiff's tort claims. This increased the damages sought by FIM 200,000.
Suomen Tupakka argued that the plaintiff's long history of lung diseases and occupational exposure may have been the cause of his disease. Oy Rettig argued the statute of limitations had run in regard to their brand. Both companies admitted that smoking was a statistical cause of serious illness.
The case was heard in the City Court of Helsinki (Case No. 88/1623 (A1)). A judgment was rendered in favor of the defendants on February 6, 1992. A general principle in Finnish tort law held that the injured party bore the principle damage himself unless he can prove an obligation on the other party to pay damages. The 10 year statute of limitations governing tort law was not dependent on whether the injury had manifested, or if the plaintiff was aware of it, but measuring from the first diagnosis in 1979, the court found that the statute of limitations had not expired. Government regulation of tobacco made it so that knowledge of the harmful properties of tobacco would not establish liability for negligence. The plaintiff did not prove that the defendants had violated the regulations. The Tobacco Act prohibited advertising or promotion aimed at consumers, or concealing truthful information about the product. Before that was passed, the Food Stuff Act and Decree only applied to spoiled tobacco, so the defendants had no reason to assume they might be negligent. The plaintiff was aware of the harmful effects of tobacco both as a member of the general public, and through his specific education and exposure. The defendants' duty to warn of these danger did not take effect until after the Tobacco Act came into effect, by which time the plaintiff had a firm knowledge of the harms that such warnings would not have increased. The judge declined to determine the issue of causation, finding no negligence.
The plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal with the Helsinki Court of Appeals on March 6, 1992. The defendant responded March 23, 1992.